Thrillers, Fillers, and Spillers

When designing summer, autumn, or winter containers be sure to follow the thrillers, fillers, and spillers rule for maximum effect. The “thriller” is the center, tallest plant. The spillers go around the perimeter of the pot; choose ones that sprawl “spill” over the edges. The fillers go in between the thrillers and the spillers to fill in the bare spots.

photo credit

Annuals or Perennials?

Most people choose annuals over perennials for their summer containers. That’s because annuals bloom all summer until frost kills them off. Perennials, on the other hand, bloom for two weeks on average, if you’re lucky. You can use a combination of both for your thrillers, fillers, and spillers. For example, perennial ornamental grasses make an awesome, inexpensive (dig a clump up from your garden) “thriller” (center) for containers.

Sun or Shade?

When designing your container, be sure to take its intended location into consideration. Some plants (both annuals and perennials) like full sun, others full shade, with others somewhere in between. Don’t try to combine these different requirements in the same container. If you do, some will thrive, and others will fizzle.

You can probably tell from these pictures that coleus and hibiscus are my favourite annuals for shade and sun containers respectively….

Fertilizer

Containers of annuals can be fertilized weekly right up until frost. This practice will keep the annuals looking cheerful as long as possible. Perennials need less fertilizer, especially those in garden beds when monthly is ideal up until August (in zone 4/5).

Deadheading and Pinching

Deadheading, or removing spent blossoms, helps to keep your containers looking nice all season. For annuals and perennials with flowers on stalks, remove the stalk right back to the first set of leaves after the flower has passed its peak. This practice often encourages repeat blooming. Others just need the faded flowers picked off.

Pinching the center of annuals and perennials encourages them to get bushier instead of leggy.

Frost Warnings

While annuals will be affected by frost, most perennials will not. Some annuals tolerate a light frost, others not so much. Of course, the first frost date varies across the globe, sometimes year to year within the same area.

In other words, frost is unpredictable.

Perennials can overwinter in your containers if you choose plants two zones hardier than what is normally hardy in your area. Otherwise, you can stick them in the ground to overwinter, to use again the following spring.

You can extend the season on both ends by heeding frost warnings in your weather forecast. In the spring I tend to start my containers early to ensure I get the annuals I want. If a frost warning is issued, I move the containers into my garage, off the (cold) cement floor, for the night in question. The same technique can be used in the fall when a sporadic early frost is in the forecast.

Once frost has set in for several days, you are fighting a lost cause. It’s then time to switch your concentration to fall or winter containers. Use the same thrillers, fillers, and spillers technique to create unique designs…

October blooms in Gardens4me

October blooms

Who can believe that October is here already? Not me. Not Gardens4me either as they are still producing lots of blooms.

New this month is the silver lace vine I have adorning my garden shelves/work bench. What a mess this shelving unit is, another job for my fall to do list.

Another fall blooming perennial is the aster, a little soggy in this picture, cheerful none the less…

October blooms
aster

Also putting in a (late) appearance is my beautiful white and red hibiscus…

Roses are still blooming beautifully…

…as is tickseed. Did you know if you cut tickseed back immediately after it first blooms in the summer it will rebloom? This picture is my proof..

October blooms
tickseed

Also reblooming for the third (!!!) time this season is my weigela. It requires no maintenance to make it rebloom, just warm weather…

Annuals in containers are still eye catching, including a gorgeous pal blush pink hibiscus, even though we have had a few frosty nights.

One annual I was disappointed in this summer was the cardinal flower vine on my bamboo teepees. Although the foliage is unique, the blooms (other than a sporadic one mentioned earlier) have only just shown up in earnest….

The frosty nights have caused the leaves to start their colour transformation. From green to red with various shades in between. The vine on my back deck (or green room) is no exception…

We can’t complain about the advancing calendar too much though as our summer here in Eastern Ontario has been awesome. A tad too hot and dry for our lawns, but awesome for we humans. With one daughter-in-law on maternity leave, I was able to spend more time than usual at the lake with her and two of my grandchildren. With pandemic restrictions in place we were not allowed to do much else, so cottage life was the perfect answer.

The rain this week has been great for the fall lawn repair my yard so badly needs. The temperature has been warm too, so my Gardens4me blooms should last a while longer.

Mid September Blooms in Gardens4me

Cooler days and nights in mid September makes for much easier gardening. One of my favourite perennial plants this time of year are the cool season ornamental grasses. There are so many varieties to choose from these days, but my favourite is still what I call “fireworks,” for obvious reasons. Its real name is Maiden Grass Silberfeder or Miscanthus Sinensis. Whatever you call it, it is gorgeous!

 There is not much new in Gardens4me this time, but many perennials are still looking dapper. For example, the roses, coneflowers (I love its seed heads too), geraniums and butterfly bushes just won’t quit, not that I’m complaining, and the Turtlehead I mentioned at the beginning of the month has produced even more unique blossoms…

Oh, and my hibiscus is finally making an appearance, a bit later than usual.  I figure my magnolia tree has shaded the hibiscus too much so I plan to trim a few of the lower branches from the magnolia to restore the full sun conditions in that bed.

I’m feeling left out; everyone elses’s hibiscus have been blooming for weeks now.

The coleus I planted are also still beautiful in containers at my local hospice and in my own garden. I love the way the vivid colours appear to be randomly splattered across the leaves…

 

With frost in the forecast a few nights this week, who knows what next week will bring……..stay tuned!

Late August Blooms in Gardens4me

With September fast (unfortunately) approaching my Gardens4me are changing yet again. That is the beauty of perennial gardens though, they change constantly.

Some things featured in early August are still shining brightly…

While new blooms are now strutting their stuff…

Now that we have received more rain, evenings are cooler and dew keeps the lawn damp for hours each morning, my grass is (amazingly enough) recovering. Even my south-facing, previously scorched lawn in my front yard has recovered. These pictures actually include the lawn in my backyard that I was embarrassed to photograph earlier this summer….

The vines I planted at the base of my garden workbench (scaffolding constructed by my son years ago) have scrambled up the poles…

Gardens4me has a handsome inspector that likes to perch atop one of the planters on my back deck. Cardinals love the greenery of my gardens, offering them lots of food and places to take cover.

At one of my favourite gardens recently (check out the evolution of this garden on my website) I snapped some photos of the containers I planted there in May…

My personal favourites for containers this summer have been hibiscus and coleus for sun and shade respectively.

I love the coleus so much I think I will attempt to take cuttings of each variety this fall before frost kills them off. Unfortunately, they are only annuals in my climate, so have to be replanted at the beginning of each season. That makes them perfect for containers though…

These yellow rose buds (my absolute favourite of my roses) are a sign of things to come…

late august blooms

Hardy Hibiscus Show Stoppers

October blooms

Hardy hibiscus are my show stoppers in my GARDENS4U gardens this August and September.  Their unbelievably vibrant blooms, often the size of a dinner plate, will literally make you stop and gawk at their incredible beauty…

I love the hibiscus so much this season that I tried some in containers and fertilized them heavily to keep them blooming all summer…

hardy hibiscus

As with any plants you expect to be perennial (they come back each year) read the labels before you purchase them!  These hibiscus are called hardy because they are considered perennials in more (colder) areas than their less hardy cousins.  These are hardy to USA zone 4, which are perfect for my Ottawa gardens.  Just be careful and patient in the spring, as they are slow to recover from their winter hibernation.  Because they die back to the ground in winter here, I put a marker near mine so I don’t inadvertently disturb or throw it out during spring cleanup.

Another important fact to consider is that perennials planted in containers are less hardy (2 zones) than when they are planted in the garden.  For example, although these hibiscus are hardy to zone 4 when planted in gardens, they would only be hardy to zone 6 in containers. 

That means I will be moving these gorgeous containers inside before the first frost.

There are annual varieties of hibiscus as well, sold in 4-inch pots with other annuals, perfect for fillers in containers.

Gardens4u presents the hibiscus, another late blooming perennial for your garden

This hibiscus is a favourite late blooming perennial, now available in hardier versions that are suitable for my Kanata Ontario gardens…

Hibiscus are apparently available in many colours, although the ones I have seen recently are in the pink and mauve category.

Previously not hardy enough to overwinter in our Ontario gardens, these new and improved cultivars of hibiscus are a welcome addition to my gardens.  Look for some in the garden nursery near you and enjoy their beautiful, late blooms.